Volunteers sought as demand grows

West Valley food banks seek helpers to feed home-bound seniors


Area food banks just got a double whammy — the need for help skyrocketing while available volunteers dwindle.

Jesse Ramirez, founder of Valley View Community Food Bank, said demand for emergency food assistance through his organization has doubled since the COVID-19 outbreak, while the ranks of regular volunteers have been nearly depleted.

“We’ve been seeing probably double the usual amount of people and we need volunteers. We had 36 that are regular volunteers call out because they’re elderly and they’re going to wait until all this passes by,” Mr. Ramirez said. “So, were calling on families and churches and groups that can come out to volunteer.”

While those who must continue to shelter in place, opportunities remain for others seeking to lend a hand in the community, he said.

Volunteer shifts are available 9 a.m.-11 a.m. and 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on weekdays at the food banks locations: 12030 N. Clubhouse Square, Youngtown; and 10771 W. Peoria Ave., Sun City.

To help with social distancing and prevent community spread, the food bank limits the number of volunteers on any given shift to a dozen maximum, Mr. Ramirez said.

The group also seeks donations of food and money to continue their mission.

“Any monetary donations will by bulk stuff, like rice, beans, pasta and cereal,” he added. “But food donations are critical right now.”

Call 623-933-3358 for help; or to learn about volunteer opportunities or to how to donate.

Learn more at feedingaz.org.

Community needs

Seth Dyson, director of the city of Surprise’s Human Service & Community Vitality department, highlighted the need for community support as agencies across the Valley struggle to meet the growing demand for assistance.

“We do have a need for volunteers in our region, especially to support our food banks and our senior programs. Many non-profits who are on the front lines need financial donations now more than ever, too” Mr. Dyson said. “At times like these, many feel called to serve their neighbors and their communities.”

He said he’s heard from many nonprofits, who are also struggling to find helpers right now.

“My understanding is that the food banks still need volunteers,” Mr. Dyson said. “According to St. Mary’s, they are down 70% volunteer helpers. Our Surprise St. Mary’s location wants people to call first before showing up so they can plan for safe volunteerism opportunities.”

Call St. Mary’s at 602-242-3663 or visit firstfoodbank.org.

The Arizona Food Bank Network provides a list of local food banks at: azfoodbanks.org.

For those in need and those seeking to serve alike, city officials have also provided a one-stop guide for resources across the Valley.

Officials from Surprise and Peoria teamed up in 2018 to produce the Community Resource Guide, a 44-page document, which compiles information and contact numbers for hundreds of local assistance programs.

Download the free PDF document.

Mr. Dyson said for those staying at home, there is still another valuable service they can perform: pick up the phone.

“While adhering to CDC directives, we encourage healthy and safe volunteerism,” he said. “I’d encourage people to call their friends, families and neighbors to do check-ins. This, too, is providing a much-needed service from the safety of their own home.”

Other help offered

Another local service group put out a call for help last week when some of their usually dependable volunteers needed to stay home instead.

“Many of our volunteers have either returned to their second homes or are choosing to isolate,” explained Taylor Gurney, marketing director for Benevilla, a nonprofit that serves West Valley seniors. “Some of our volunteers may actually now be in need of our services themselves and we anticipate an increase in this if this continues over a long period of time.”

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, nearly three-quarters of Benevilla volunteers were 55 or older. Many of those volunteers have followed the advice of health organizations and Gov. Doug Ducey, among many others, to stay at home.

While demand for services has increased, following a generous response to a call for volunteers last week, the group appears to have found all the help they need for now.

But while they may have enough volunteers, they want the community to know Benevilla is still ready to assist those in need, Ms. Gurney stated.

“We are no longer in need of volunteers with the influx of community support we have received,” she stated. “However, we now need more than ever to get the word out that we are still here and still able to help seniors in our community.”

“Volunteer help with grocery shopping and delivery, meal delivery and phone pals to keep spirits up and help prevent isolation,” Ms. Gurney stated. “With the Benevilla Phone Pals program, volunteers have the opportunity to impact a life from the comfort and safety of their own home. Seniors can be isolated and lonely, even more in times like these, and just want a friendly voice on the line to chat with.”

Among other options, Benevilla provides in-home services — such as shopping assistance, meal delivery and check-in calls to area seniors, including those in El Mirage, Peoria, Surprise, Sun City West, Youngtown, Avondale, Buckeye and Tolleson.

Ms. Gurney said her group can also help volunteers find other organizations that need helpers.

“These services can help ease the burden and worries of family members caring for loved ones and ensure older adults with no family support are not left isolated, alone and in need of every day essentials. If you know a senior in need, please encourage them to call us at 623-584-4999,” she stated. “If a community member would still like to volunteer, please give us a call and we would be happy to connect them with other community organizations that are in need.”

Learn more at benevilla.org.